Fighting Political Correctness in the Age of Trump
Republicans must stand up to political correctness or lose.
Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam.
When it was announced that Harriet Tubman would displace President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, there were two sets of dramatically different reactions among Republicans on social media.
One group passed around links to a National Review piece celebrating the decision to “tell the story of a deeply-religious, gun-toting Republican who fought for freedom in defiance of the laws of a government that refused to recognize her rights.”
“If it was political correctness that drove this decision, who cares?” it asked.
Much of the Republican base, the other group, cared. Donald Trump noticed and denounced the move as “pure political correctness”.
Political correctness is the defining element of the culture war today. It’s also one of the driving forces of Trump’s candidacy. Republicans and conservatives who ignore the backlash to it do so at their own peril.
When the left exploited the Charleston church shooting to begin a purge of Confederate flags that extended all the way into reruns of the Dukes of Hazzard, Republicans failed to defy the lynch mobs and even cheered the takedowns, some of which took place under Republican governors, as progress. Congresswoman Candice Miller, a Republican, announced recently that state flags in the Capitol featuring confederate insignia will be taken down due to the “controversy surrounding Confederate imagery”. The “controversy” is another term for the left’s manufactured political correctness.
There are legitimate positions on both sides when it comes to the Confederate flag, but the historical debate is not the issue. Just as it doesn’t matter very much that Harriet Tubman was a Republican. It matters far more that both moves were driven by the social media mobs of political correctness.
Culture wars are not about actual historical facts, but a tribal conflict over culture between clashing groups. This is a conflict in which it mattered a great deal that northeastern elites were lining up to get $400 tickets to see Hamilton, a hip-hop musical praised by many of the same Republicans who wouldn’t be caught dead watching reruns of the Dukes of Hazzard. That New York theater trend led to Southerner Andrew Jackson being displaced on the currency instead of New York’s own Alexander Hamilton.
Some conservatives would argue that Andrew Jackson founded the Democratic Party while Hamilton, a longtime foe of its political forebears, would likely have aligned with the modern Republican Party. And like Tubman on the $20 bill, they would be completely missing the forest for the factoid.
Imagine that you live in a world in which the theater tastes of New York elites combined with a media pressure campaign by two obnoxious New Yorkers determines who shows up on American currency? It isn’t nearly as grating if you are a Republican living in New York or Washington D.C. and share much of the culture of the liberal upper class, even if you generally dissent from its economic and social policies.
But it’s a lot more irritating if you live in Alabama or Mississippi and your culture is not only an object of mockery and contempt, but you also have it rubbed in your face that the momentary whims of an entitled elite operating out of a handful of overrated cities matter more than your entire history.
Political correctness isn’t just about politics. It’s about power. It’s about who has it and who doesn’t.
Should the Party of Lincoln really fight for displaying the Confederate flag? Or oppose Harriet Tubman appearing on the $20 bill? On the other hand, Republicans fought aggressively to represent the South. If they don’t want to represent states where the Confederate flag is heritage, they shouldn’t have asked for the job. The Republican Party doesn’t represent New York. It does represent Mississippi.
It shouldn’t take Donald Trump, a New Yorker, or Daniel Greenfield, yet another New Yorker, to remind Republicans of that.
But the entire Republican Party doesn’t have to fight for the Confederate flag or Andrew Jackson. It should however fight the power imbalance created by political correctness even when it doesn’t agree with the object of the fight. If liberals could defend Communists by arguing process, conservatives should be able to do as much. And indeed process is the issue with political correctness. As it is with every witch hunt in which righteous rhetoric by a media mob overrides fairness and free speech.
There are two ways to fight political correctness. There is the low road of populist vulgarity, of political incorrectness for the sake of political incorrectness, mocking and demeaning cultural scolds to make them seem ridiculous. And then there is the high road of challenging them as privileged demagogues who attack civil rights in the name of civil rights, who are not victims but witch hunters aided and abetted by powerful media interests, and whose tactics represent a grave threat to individual freedom.
The low road is enjoyable, but plays into the portrayal of politically correct activists as victims. The high road exposes them for the totalitarian bullies that they truly are. But it requires fighting for the rights of the politically incorrect people that you may disagree with. And when conservatives fail to fight for fairness and due process, they cede the fight to a class of politically incorrect activists who have no conservative principles and who stand for nothing except egging on the other side to extremes.
This is not a battle over facts. It’s a cultural struggle over process. Political correctness is not actually a debate about the events of a past century, but about whether political and economic power should also translate into a cultural dominance so pervasive that it can reach out and strangle everything it dislikes.
That can be hard to see from a performance of Hamilton where political correctness is a lot closer to culture than in Mississippi. And if members of the Party of Lincoln find their role in this new civil war bewildering, they ought to remember that Lincoln was no friend of radical activists whose object was the display of their own self-righteousness in a punitive agenda. Lincoln called for “malice toward none”. He sought unity rather than divisiveness. The agenda of political correctness is malicious and punitive.
Political correctness is about punishing people for having the wrong tastes, for living in the wrong places and having the wrong culture. For watching the Dukes of Hazzard instead of Hamilton.
Real Republicans should be sickened and disgusted by that.
Reshaping American culture is a display of raw power. Process was built to inhibit raw power and prevent elites, no matter how powerful, from always getting their way. Constitutional conservatives believe in process. If they fail to stand up for it now, they will lose to power, either of those who champion political correctness or those who are willing to do anything to oppose it.
Fighting political correctness is a fundamental part of fighting for a free and fair society. If we forget that, we’ll lose any hope of achieving that society.